Positive affirmations aren’t fool-proof; while they improve mood for some, their tangible impact is far from profound. According to Joanne V. Wood’s study through the University of Waterloo, the tool functions best (although still rather meekly) for participants who already have high self-esteem. For those with low self-esteem, the practice does not have the desired effect of mood improvement; in fact, it lowers mood altogether.
In 2018, journalist Tracey Anne Duncan spoke with professor of psychology Sherry Benton about the negative effects of positive affirmations. Benton explains that for someone who is struggling in life to try to force themselves to believe something positive, the statement can feel otherworldly and totally out of their realm of reality, an even more depressing prospect. She says that more than half of our “internal dialogue” has always been what would be considered “negative” for the purpose of survival. Self-critique is inherent to the human being, and according to Duncan’s reflection on Benton’s research, “the more we judge our thinking, the worse it gets.” Author Gary John Bishop suggests action as the best form of self-help, how big or small you start. Neurologist Ilene Ruhoy claims a combination of the two will do the trick to make significant change in one’s life: Start with a positive affirmation, but one that feels like it is at least remotely believable at this point in time and then find the very first step to bring this affirmation into tangible existence. Seeing an affirmation take shape – that is the key to fulfillment.